In another time, the sprawling Kameruka Estate was one of Australia’s largest cattle runs. It was also home to a nine-hole course with links to St. Andrews in Scotland, but has long since disappeared under lush pasture. Here, we go in search of the lost course of Kameruka.
We intended to escape back over the fence where a few hours earlier we’d begun our dawn incursion. But now the imposing silhouette of the farmer was standing there waiting for us, his ute and dog outlined against the clear morning sky.
“How ya goin’?’” he greeted us in a friendly Aussie twang. “Sorry I wasn’t here earlier to unlock the gate!”
The twang – and the property – belong to Barry Moffitt, a local dairy farmer who acquired the Kameruka Estate in 2018.
The historic property occupies 1,400 hectares of beautiful rolling farmland around Kameruka and Candelo in the southern New South Wales hinterland, about 20 minutes’ drive inland from the coastal town of Merimbula.
At its epoch in the 1800s through to World War I, Kameruka Estate stretched across more than 162,000 hectares making it one of Australia’s largest cattle runs and the home to nearly 1,000 dairy workers living in villages built around three separate cheese factories.
Generations of families lived and worked on the estate establishing the foundations of the Bega Valley cheese industry and the nascent Bega Cheese Cooperative.
For more than 150 years Kameruka was stewarded by members of the Lucas-Tooth family but especially by one particular patriarch of the Tooth’s Brewing fortune – Sir Robert Lucas-Tooth.
Sir Robert, who lived much of his life in England, had a Jane Austen-esque vision for the property – an idealised tribute to the mother country, which included a circa-1845 homestead, English gardens, a village square, a hall, church and clock-tower, several schools and numerous cottages to house the aforementioned communities of dairy workers and their families.
The Lords View Cricket Oval was added as entertainment for the workers and in 1885 the estate hosted a touring English XI, who played against an Australian team in one of the earliest contests between the two great cricketing nations.
And yet, how did I come to be jumping a fence onto a Kameruka paddock in the year 2020? It just so happens that more than a century earlier Tooth also commissioned the creation of a nine-hole golf course …
The Kameruka Golf Course story began for me in a COVID-inspired conversation with Golf Australia magazine Editor, Brendan James. “I think I’d like to visit some regional NSW courses this year since I can’t fly anywhere,” I said.
He considered this a moment then leaned in conspiratorially …
“There’s a legend of an abandoned course around Kameruka or Candelo designed by none other than Laurie Auchterlonie.”
Auchterlonie – as in the famed St. Andrews Auchterlonie family. Specifically, Laurie Auchterlonie, winner of the 1902 US Open, and brother, Willie, the 1893 Open Champion.
Could it be that one of that era’s most famous golfing families had established a beachhead in Australia years before the celebrated visit of Dr Alister MacKenzie?
Could Kameruka be to Australia what Askernish is to Scotland? A lost course with the pedigree of a legendary St. Andrews golfing family?
A few days later I mentioned Kameruka to golf course architect Harley Kruse and I could see that something tweaked with him, a half-formed thought that he kept to himself.
A few weeks passed and Harley phoned … “Hey Adrian, remember that lost Auchterlonie course we were talking about? I’m standing on it!”
Harley had been tipped off while consulting on a course in a nearby town. It turns out, yes, there was an abandoned course on the estate – it wasn’t a mystery to the locals – they fondly recalled a humble old nine-holer with sand-scrape greens and minimal maintenance.
They say it had once had grass greens and was considered a course of some note but its gradual decline was complete in the early 2000s when its broken-down condition just wasn’t viable anymore and people stopped going there to play golf.
And so Harley followed the trail to local dairy farmer Barry Moffitt – Kameruka Estate’s present day owner, who I would later encounter at the fence. Harley asked if he could take a look around. Barry shrugged. “Golf you say? Don’t know why you’d be interested in that paddock, the cattle don’t even like it there.”
But what Harley found that day on Barry’s paddock might be one of Australia’s most historically significant pieces of golf course architecture outside of MacKenzie’s legacy.
The course is set on a beautiful parcel of land dominated by a central hill and bordered on two sides by Candelo Creek. It’s lightly wooded with some big country-sized eucalypts and dotted here and there with European pines, which are a striking addition to the landscape.
In the old hall near the homestead, Harley came across a beautiful hand drawn map of the course that laid bare the location of all the greens, tees, bunkers and mounds. It’s all still there in the ground.
Harley and I would later walk the property map-in-hand, checking off landmarks.
“There should be a green just over this hill”… and there it is… “A tee over by that fence”… found it… “Some bunkers here, here and there”… yep, yep and yep.
And here’s the thing – it’s a really fascinating design.
It’s quirky right from the start. The 1st tee has a white railed fence around it on three sides. Its reason for being is quite inscrutable but it’s also a handsome looking structure. From there you’re presented with a thrilling, elevated tee shot that must carry over Candelo Creek into a beautiful big open playing field. A 100-year-old kiosk is set in the base of the hill near the intersection of the 1st and 8th greens and where a suspension bridge once spanned the creek but got washed away in a big flood.
A series of holes hug the curves of a lovely valley along the western boundary, while other holes travel up hill and down dale. There’s an infinity green at the highest point of the course, while another green is set in a massive punchbowl – wonderful design features that have their roots on the great courses of Scotland. Several tee shots cross back over the previous hole and there’s multiple tee options that significantly change the character of each hole.
There’s funky mounds, trench, pot and coffin bunkers as well as some unique hazards including a row of cross bunkers shaped in a form that can only be described as two hamburgers linked by a donut!
Significantly, there’s a randomness to the bunkering and a quirk to the mounds and green complexes that evokes a definite Scottish sensibility. It’s immediately obvious that nothing like this exists elsewhere in Australia and would be rare to find in its original state even in the United Kingdom.
Kameruka represents the only specimen of this branch of golf course architecture in Australia. It took root in this one isolated community and there were no Mick Morcoms or Alex Russells to propagate it to other towns.
But is this designed by the hand of Laurie Auchterlonie? To answer that we must return to Sir Robert Lucas Tooth and the years leading up to World War I.
RIGHT: Sir Robert Lucas-Tooth. PHOTO: Victorian State Library.
In 1913, while living in London, Sir Robert devised a plan which was to be executed by his manager, Arthur Champneys, back at Kameruka Estate. This would include the construction of a hostel to attract holiday-makers and the added attraction of a nine-hole course designed by Laurie Auchterlonie.
Sir Robert soon put his plan into action by dispatching a golf professional named Ernest Banks to implement Auchterlonie’s design. Little is known of Banks’ past except that he was believed to be the professional at Dover Golf Club in England – another course, incidentally, that seems to be lost to history.
Shipping records show Banks and his wife arrived in Sydney in 1914 aboard the Ceramic. From there they corresponded with Champneys and arranged to travel down the coast to initially stay in the Candelo Hotel then likely staying in a cottage on the estate for the duration of the course construction.
Meanwhile, with the commencement of hostilities in Europe, Sir Robert remained in England with his three sons, all of whom would serve as officers for the British Army in the Great War.
But unthinkable tragedy befell the Tooth family with all three sons dying in active service, two of them in some of the opening skirmishes of the war. Sir Robert himself passed away just months later in February 1915 at his home in England. His final instructions were to “continue my work.”
RIGHT: Laurie Auchterlonie. PHOTO: Victorian State Library.
And so it would be. Champneys’ management report for the week ending August 14, 1915, recorded: “Golf course finished … Banks employed daily going over greens rolling, dressing, etc… Excavation work and making bunkers started by a gang of men with horses and carts in April and have been fully kept at it ever since.”
A contemporary report in Candelo’s local newspaper, The Southern Record, stated: “The golf links are beginning to show the result of careful work. When finished off, the links will be among the best in the state.”
So, it seems Auchterlonie himself didn’t come to Australia, and the historical record points to the course being the work of Ernest Banks, more than likely working off Auchterlonie’s plans as commissioned by Sir Robert before his death.
"Kameruka represents the only specimen of this branch of golf course architecture in Australia. It took root in this one isolated community and there were no Mick Morcoms or Alex Russells to propagate it to other towns."
Regardless of the provenance of the design, what is evident to this day is that it was undoubtedly a fascinating and unique piece of work. As for Ernest Banks, he moved to Sydney when Kameruka was finished and, for a time, he served at Bonnie Doon Golf Club but didn’t design or build another golf course.
While Sir Robert died before the end of construction, the golf course was perhaps Kameruka’s most personal remnant of his legacy. The small scattering of European pine that features on the property are said to have been propagated from three original saplings planted in honour for each of Sir Robert’s three fallen sons.
Further, the original card of the course shows the holes are named for World War I battlefields: ‘Gallipoli’, ‘The Crater’, ‘Ypres’, ‘Shrapnel Gully’, ‘Hill 60’, ‘Salonika’, ‘The Labyrinth’, ‘The Kiosk’ and perhaps most poignantly, ‘Home’.
Harley served as guide for my visit to Kameruka. We’d arranged with Barry Moffitt for a gate on the western boundary of the course to be unlocked so we could enter at daybreak to take some photos and walk the course in the most favourable morning light.
Barry ended up forgetting to unlock the gate, but no matter, we easily jumped the fence and made our way down a little cattle trail that leads onto what was once the 4th fairway, a twisty hole that runs along a valley floor. From the moment I set foot on it I was struck by the serenity of the setting and the suitability of the ground for golf.
Harley and I enjoyed a peaceful couple of hours wandering around, pointing at features in the ground and imagining how it must have once been.
As word slowly gets out about the lost course at Kameruka, a small consortium of interested parties is forming to initiate its restoration. For Harley Kruse it is both a passion project and, I suspect, a duty he feels must be carried out for the historical significance of the course to Australian golf.
Harley himself said it best: “The hand-built course at Kameruka is like nothing else in Australia, it was created completely independently of those with the ideas and skills that had been forming the golf holes of the evolving Melbourne and Sydney golfing landscapes. Many hundreds of miles away Kameruka has been untouched and locked away in place and time.”
“It needs to be preserved. It is most worthy of bringing back to life, not only as a unique and historic piece of golfing architecture in this country, but for the truly fun and relevant golf experience some 105 years after its making,” he said.
When it came time to leave, Harley and I made our way back up the cattle trail to the fence. It was here that I first met Barry Moffitt, his dog and his ute. Barry helped us out through the now-unlocked gate and when he extended an arm to greet me, I noticed a hastily scribbled reminder on his hand – “golf.”
While Barry may not be a golfer, I think he at least recognises a kinship with our quest. We chatted a while and said our goodbyes but before he jumped in his ute he looked back at Harley and me with an expression I recognised as something like pity.
RIGHT: The green of the 110-yard 7th hole was surrounded by at least seven bunkers. PHOTO: Adrian Logue.
“I figure you blokes must be addicted to this golf thing. It’s like me with farming, I don’t know why I do it, I might not even like it, I just can’t help myself. It’s in my blood.” Indeed.
KAMERUKA GOLF COURSE CIRCA 1917
The following is an extract from a course review that appeared in Sydney’s The Sun newspaper in March 1917, under the headline South Coast Golf Course.
The course has a length of 2,700 yards, and from a golfing point of view is very sporting indeed.
At the first hole (310 yards) the carry for the drive is across a creek, and may be considered a really good drive if negotiated. The fairway is bunkered for the pull and slice, and the ground surrounding the green is also heavily bunkered for the erratic player.
Hole No. 2 (220 yards) is of drive and chip variety, and accurate driving is required. Otherwise, the approach to the green is a very awkward shot.
The third hole (360 yards) is one of the best of its kind, being dog-leg. A good drive is essential here to open up the approach to the green, as there is a gully running across the line of approach which adds a great deal of charm to this hole. The green, which is undulating, is made fairly secure from indifferent play.
The fourth hole (290 yards) is up a valley. One gets hardly any run on the ball at this hole, so that it may safely be termed the drive and iron length. There is no room here to pull or slice as there are trees on both sides of the fairway.
The fifth hole (350 yards) is placed on a rise. The carry for the drive is of good length and may be considered fairly stiff by some – here the smiter has a chance to open his shoulders. The badly pulled shot will invariably find its penalty by rolling down a slope, making the green impossible to reach with the next stroke. The sliced ball will be among trees or out of bounds if badly sliced. The green is bunkered at sides and back, leaving plenty of room for a straight approach.
The sixth hole (410 yards) is down a slope and requires straight play, for there are no less than 12 bunkers (for erratic play) through the fairway and guarding the green.
The seventh hole (110 yards) is very appropriately named “Hades.” Many bunkers will penalise a poor shot.
At the eighth hole (460 yards) the fairway is slightly on the bend all the way. Long grass guards the sides of the fairway, and there are also bunkers. The carry from the tee is of a very good length, and the green is well guarded by bunkers.
At the ninth hole (260 yards) the green is of the basin variety. Straight play is necessary, however, or bogey will beat you.